San Francisco Suite

From Wind Repertory Project
Ferde Grofé

Ferde Grofé (ed. Tam)

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General Info

Year: 1960 / 2015
Duration: c. 22:15
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Unknown


1. The Gold Rush - 5:35
2. Bohemian Nights - 4:46
3. The Mauve Decade - 3:45
4. 1906-1960 - 8:09


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

In 1960, Ferde Grofé was commissioned to create a new descriptive suite based on San Francisco. This was familiar territory for the composer because San Francisco was the place where, while playing jazz in local nightclubs, he met band leader Paul Whiteman and began a long friendship and working relationship. Known to most as composer of the Grand Canyon Suite and as arranger of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Grofé composed a series of suites based on the American landscape and life which would grow to include the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Hudson River, Niagara Falls, Hollywood and San Francisco suites as well as others. In his own unique way, the composer has painted a series of musical portraits of life in America, conjuring up images to which even Norman Rockwell could relate.

The first movement of the suite Gold Rush portrays San Francisco's wild gold rush era of the Barbary Coast, mining settlements and frontier justice. The gold rush of 1849 is introduced by the tune Pop Goes the Weasel which was had become popular in America during this same period. The tune is then expanded and layered upon with variations in a metaphor for San Francisco’s exploding growth. Grofé mischievously depicts a frontier altercation represented by the bass clarinet and bassoon, the victor galloping off to a nearby camp which is hosting a square dance. The movement concludes with a gold strike and the frenzy that ensues.

Grofé subtitled the second movement Bohemian Nights as the “Theme of Romance” and this theme reemerges in later movements. A woodwind feature, the alto saxophone solo introduces the theme which is then echoed in a horn solo and then taken up by the woodwind sections.

The third movement Mauve Decade portrays a maturing city of the 1890s with its cable cars and high society. The listener is taken for a ride on the Powell-Hyde cable car, making stops in Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, and then passing the opera before heading downhill to the waterfront.

The fourth, 1906 – 1960 depicts the Great Quake of 1906, the resulting fires, the dynamiting of buildings to create fire breaks in an attempt to save the city, and its aftermath and rebirth. Beginning with a haunting fog punctuated by an echoing fog horn, tension is built until the first tremors are felt. After the devastation is wrought, the city picks up and rebuilds, culminating with a passage of Hail to California, the University of California alma mater. The “Theme of Romance” returns in a triumphant setting punctuated by fireworks provided by the percussion before ending in a fanfare based again on Hail to California.

-Program Note by editor


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State Ratings

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Works for Winds by This Composer


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